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EASY English - Making a Difference

EASY English - Making a Difference

A Technology Platform

EASY English is Akshara Foundation's English programme covering 653 children in classes 1 and 2 in 24 schools in Hoskote block and 13 in Bangalore. It is a technology-enabled language enrichment intervention that breaks away from the conventional paradigms of government schools where often the stimulating impulse, the curiosity and spirit of fun in the learning process are missing from the textbook-to-student delivery. The much-used blackboard is a handy but hardly adequate medium.

EASY English stands on a technology platform that fully supports the class 1 and 2 syllabi, its architecture designed by Akshara with help from EkStep[1]. Akshara has distributed pre-programmed Tablets to the Nali-Kali[2] classrooms in all the 37 schools.

Built into them are lesson plans that expand on the textbook, multiple choice questions, guidance, language tips, and assessments for children, all leading in the strategic direction of embedding a strong foundation for English at entry point when children are just starting school. For teachers, unused to English and experiencing it at close quarters for perhaps the first time, the teacher modules in the Tab chart a course of gradual, but sure-footed capability. Loaded in them are sessions on the fundamentals of language structure, vocabulary and grammar. English is a compulsory subject in government schools, but the reality is that teachers with low proficiency in it are expected to teach.

Technology is in simplified format that beginners too can grasp. Teachers and children with limited experience of devices can easily adapt to it. The features are clear, instructive and easy to negotiate. Complementary support comes from a blue tooth speaker given to each class that transmits the Tab's content, the pronunciations it clarifies, and the answers it provides.

Simple, Child-Friendly Sessions

The EASY English team's award-winning paper at ET-17, National Conference on ICT[3], held by SVYM[4] in Mysore says, "The interactive sessions are simple and child-friendly, so they attract student participation. Formative assessments after each lesson are organically built in, while the responses are captured immediately; and the teacher too is enabled to see the score."

"The Tab, a 10" iBall[5], was used to design and develop the content. The Tab became the central teaching-learning tool, which serves the twin purposes of reaching the student as well as the teacher…..We are not looking to reach the student community alone. Most teachers have had low exposure to English, have low language skills, especially speaking skills, and hence, low confidence to teach English. They 'teach English through Kannada'. Students on the other hand lack an 'English language environment', as a teacher aptly termed it, at home and at school."

"While Listening-Speaking-Reading-Writing (LSRW) skills were the cornerstones, they were split into smaller goals of comprehending instructions, vocabulary building, grammar and usage, responding in one word, speaking short sentences - in other words, communicative competence."

"Equally important is the utility for teachers," says the paper. "The Tab offers scaffolding for teaching through the self-learning route."

Policy Underpinnings

EASY English draws from policy recommendations in the Position paper, National Focus Group on Teaching, brought out by NCERT[6]. Also guiding content development are DSERT's[7] list of competencies for English.

The Position Paper says, "English in India is a global language in a multilingual country." It is a response to "people's aspirations." The Paper talks of "an explosion in the demand for English in our schools because English is perceived to open up opportunities." "…..it is being demanded by everyone at the very initial stage of schooling."

Parents from low-income circumstances in the schools that Akshara works in insist on it and send their children to private English medium schools if they have an economic choice.

Training Workshops

The team holds interactive training workshops for teachers every fortnight to "give mini immersion experiences, thus building self-esteem and confidence." The workshops are an EASY English hallmark, a vigorous, almost personalised, out-of-the-box, two-hour coaching that the team conducts for small, cohesive groups of teachers. They open up avenues for learning grammar and usage, short essay writing, opportunities for speaking in English and self-expression, handholding, and a continuous evaluation of progress through assessments.

A Shared Enterprise

The digitisation of English is contributing to self-education as well, while the trainings are empowering teachers; it is a two-pronged approach. The Tab is an attention-getter, it sharpens focus. Children are getting to be technology-compliant, adept at the touch screen, pressing the arrow to navigate the pages back and forth, dropping and dragging, matching text with the voice-over or pictures, pushing up a letter to fill in the blanks.

Between teachers and students, a degree of trust develops during the English period, a comforting equality. They establish a bond in many classrooms as they sit on the floor with the Tab and the speaker, and learning together is a shared experience, a communal feeling. They are jointly in it, fulfilling an aspiration.

As teacher Farzana says, "English is everywhere. Everywhere you look. Everywhere in the atmosphere. You go shopping, there it is. You go to a Hindi movie - even a Kannada movie – it has English. Why is it that we alone can't speak or understand? Children in our schools are from poor backgrounds. They must learn English."

Lakshmi Mohan

Akshara Foundation

[1] EkStep is a not-for-profit initiative that gathers partners on a universal, collaborative platform to reimagine learning opportunities for every child, says its website, https://ekstep.org

[2] Developed in 1995 by teachers in Karnataka's Mysore district, the Nali Kali strategy adopted creative learning practices to help retain children in school and bring in those not attending school. Child competencies were pegged to a learning ladder and the learning process was organised into milestones providing every child the opportunity to assess his or her own progress. Classes 1, 2 and 3 are combined to form a single Nali-Kali unit.

[3] ICT refers to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications.

[4] Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement.

[5] iBall is a consumer electronics company headquartered in Mumbai.

[6] National Council of Educational Research and Training.

[7] Department of State Educational Research and Training.